From TJ Magazine: Adaptability

Alisdair Wade urges educationalists to prepare young people to be ready for an automated future.

Reading time: 4 minutes.

Many of our jobs, white-collar as well as manual, will soon be done by artificial intelligence (AI). The most recent estimate by the OECD1 puts the global figure at one in 10. Th at’s a lot of jobs.

As it permeates economies and societies, AI is transforming every aspect of our lives. Algorithms already greet us on our digital devices, influence our purchases, govern our news feeds, and will soon drive our cars.

So to ensure we are the ones who continue to pull the computers’ strings rather than vice versa, shouldn’t we futureproof our children by teaching them all to code? 

It’s a tempting proposal and it would be diffi cult to argue against teaching something that is akin to learning a modern language combined with the use of logic. But wait: will all the jobs in the future require an ability to create algorithms?

If today’s pupils are to succeed, surely the most valuable abilities and aptitudes they can have are those the machines don’t have.

If the incredible pace of change over the last 20 years has taught us anything it is that predicting exactly what technical skills we will need in the future is folly. Relying on teaching these skills across the board in schools is surely too great a gamble on our predictive powers.

A far more rational approach would be to identify a broader set of abilities and aptitudes – ones the robots are unlikely to master – and look to nurture those in today’s pupils. By doing so, whatever the technical requirements of tomorrow’s jobs, today’s pupils will be able to learn them. We will have armed them with arguably the most important future skill of all: the ability to adapt. 

Abilities and aptitudes

What are those attributes? Drawing from the work of futurists we can start to build a framework split into three different categories: cognitive, interpersonal and attitudinal. The overarching commonality of all of these is that they will remain largely unique to humans for at least the foreseeable future.

For if today’s pupils are to succeed, surely the most valuable abilities and aptitudes they can have are those the machines don’t have.


Picture a multi-tiered wedding cake: the bottom tier is the ability to recall, the next layer up our ability to understand, the ability to apply sits upon that, then comes an ability to analyse, then evaluate. The cherry on top is an ability to create. 

Recall – for and against

Many look at the hierarchy, first devised by US educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom in the 50s, and label recall as a ‘lower order’ thinking skill. Lower order, they argue, is the most vulnerable to the rapid rise of technology. 

Look at generation Z, they say, whose mobile phones are a physical extension of long-term memory relocated from cerebral cortex to the end of a finger. Why do they need to remember anything if Google or Siri’s algorithms can do the retrieval for us?

The defenders of recall argue that knowledge has long been king and we have no knowledge if we can’t remember it. Recall sits at the base of a Bloom cake for good reason: it is the platform upon which all other thinking sits. How can we create ideas if we cannot draw on pieces of existing information to make something new? How can we think if we have nothing to think about? 

Both arguments have merit. The ability to recall, more or less reflected by good exam grades in our education system, is surely less valuable in the modern world than it was. But nonetheless it remains crucial.

What of Bloom’s other thinking skills? Can the machines understand apply, analyse or evaluate? Yes, though only to varying degrees. Only creativity seemingly remains beyond them, but even that citadel is under siege. 

The skills our education system should be developing

So what are the five cognitive skills our education system should be developing if they are looking to the future rather than the league tables? In addition to recall:

  • Creativity – how to connect existing knowledge and available information to generate new thoughts and concepts.
  • Critical thinking – how to evaluate and challenge information and ideas as well as question their source.
  • Analytical thinking – how to use systems to take an ordered approach to problem solving.
  • Metacognition – developing an ability to understand how we think. This is not only to improve an understanding of self but also to enable us to improve the way we can then understand information. 

And under the interpersonal skills category? The emotional intelligence that robots will struggle to replicate are likely to be how to:

  • Communicate – ideas and thought processes, articulately and appropriately across multiple mediums.
  • Listen – to others’ point of view and react accordingly.
  • Generate positive relationships – through an ability to adapt to a wide range of people across cultures by being aware of one’s own and others’ emotions, personalities and drivers.
  • Work in and lead teams – to be collaborative, open to learning from others and lead when necessary.
  • Societal skills – behave appropriately according to circumstance. Show an awareness of, and make a contribution to, wider society.


About the author

Alisdair Wade is a director of Thinking Matters


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